Inaccessible Cafe Experiment encourages businesses to think, empathise and act

A group of passionate people with disabilities hosted their own ‘Inaccessible Cafe’ at Escape Arts in Stratford-Upon-Avon with the aim of helping others understand inaccessibility and exclusion first-hand.

Around 25 ‘customers’ entered the cafe on a rainy Wednesday in March to undergo the inaccessible experience with Kelly from Grapevine and Michelle, a member of Warwickshire Empowerment Service (WES), playing the role of unhelpful coffee shop staff… unable to answer reasonable questions or offer accessible seating options or any menus that were easy to read, or accommodate their different guests in any way!

A sign says disabled toilets are out of order because they are being used for storage. A common issue for disabled people trying to access venues.
Not reality on this occasion but a common issue for disabled people trying to access venues.

“I have had cafe staff gossip about me and use ableist words when they think I can’t hear them.”

Thankfully it was all an act this time but each part of the experience was backed up by many, many more real ones experienced by disabled people every day when visiting shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and tourist attractions – then having to leave because the place they want to go to isn’t open and welcoming to all.

Among visitors were staff from Healthwatch England, Shakespeare’s England, the Compton Verney estate and WES commissioners, with whom our members spent time sharing their experiences.

This video was then shown to visitors to expand on what they had experienced and offer real-life insights into how things could improve. They were then, of course, offered free cake to say thank you for their time.

“I have left a cafe after they wouldn’t turn the music down, they didn’t treat it as an access need and left me feeling excluded.”

With 75 per cent of disabled people stating they have left an establishment because it was inaccessible and £2 billion lost by businesses each month for this reason (source: We Are Purple), listening to our tips for greater accessibility and inclusion could help businesses make money.

From overhearing cafe staff talking about disabled people to being asked not to enter in case their walking stick is used as a weapon, change and kindness are long overdue.

The inaccessible cafe experiment in full swing with customers and staff.
The Inaccessible Cafe Experiment in full swing.

WES was funded by Warwickshire County Council to empower disabled people to have an influence on the local services they use.

A huge thank you to the WES team (including Bob, Anne and Michelle whose acting was on point at this event!) for their passion and dedication to improving disabled people’s lives and futures over the years.

“WES has really helped me to come to terms with my own diagnosis. I joined at a difficult time for me personally, talking to like-minded people really helped me.”

#ShiftingPower #SystemsChange